TORONTO — Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admitted during a heated City Council debate Wednesday that he had bought illegal drugs in the past two years, but he firmly refused to step down from his job even after nearly every councilor stood up to ask him to take a leave of absence.
The mayor made the confession under direct questioning by a councilor who has introduced a motion that would ask Ford to take a leave of absence and get help for his admitted drug use. Ford publicly admitted last week that he smoked crack cocaine last year in a “drunken stupor,” but his comments Wednesday marked the first time he acknowledged having bought illegal drugs.
Ford paused for a long time after Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong asked him if he had bought illicit narcotics in the past two years.
Then Ford replied, “Yes I have.”
“I understand the embarrassment that I have caused. I am humiliated by it,” Ford said.
But he then turned defiant, saying he was not an addict of any sort and rebuffed suggestions from council members that he should seek help. He insisted he is a “positive role model for kids who are down and out.”
“I’m most definitely keeping this job,” he said. “I am not leaving here. I’m going to sit here and going to attend every meeting.”
Moments earlier, all but two of the 43 councilors present for the debate voted to accept an open letter asking Ford to step aside.
Although it was a stark demonstration of his political isolation, the vote was symbolic because the City Council does not have the authority to force the mayor from office unless he is convicted of a crime.
“Together we stand to ask you to step aside and take a leave of absence,” Councilor Jaye Robinson said, reading the open letter.
The packed council chamber erupted with applause when Robinson ended her speech, saying “Let’s get on with city business.”
The letter was separate from the motion introduced by Minnan-Wong, which would formally call on Ford to take a leave of absence, apologize to Toronto residents for misleading them and cooperate with police.
Ford’s refusal to resign has confounded the City Council, where many members agree that his erratic behavior — from public drunkenness to threatening to kill someone in a videotaped tirade — has consumed Toronto’s politics and undermined efforts to tackle other challenges.
But with no clear legal path to force him out, the Council is grasping for ways to shunt the larger-than-life leader aside and govern without him until next year’s municipal elections.
Toronto police said last month they had obtained a long-sought video of Ford apparently smoking from a crack pipe but that it does not constitute enough evidence to charge him.
News reports of the crack video’s existence first surfaced in May, but it has not been released publicly.
Toronto’s mayor already has limited powers compared to the mayors of many large cities in the United States. He is just one voting member in the council and his power stems mostly from his ability, as the only councilor elected by citywide vote, to build consensus and set the agenda. That authority, many council members say, has evaporated in the crack scandal.
“We really just have to build a box around the mayor so we can get work done,” said councilor John Filion, who has introduced one of two motions in the council designed to isolate Ford.
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, a Ford ally, announced shortly before the debate that he would support Minnan-Wong’s motion.
“I’m publicly advising the mayor to take some time,” Kelly said.
If Ford refuses to take a leave, Minnan-Wong said he would put forward an amended motion that would ask the province of Ontario to pass legislation to remove the mayor from office. But that initiative is unlikely to pass, with Kelly and other councilors concerned that asking the provincial government to intervene would set a dangerous precedent.
One Ford ally, Councilor Giorgio Mammoliti, called the Minnan-Wong’s motion a waste of time, arguing it should be up to the voters next year to decide whether the mayor should stay in office.
“We can’t tell him what to do. Only the electorate can tell him what to do,” he said. “Most of us that care have already spoken to the mayor or relayed it to the mayor’s family. I think that’s what’s needed. The rest is up to the electorate.”
Another proposed motion would curtail Ford’s powers, suspending his authority to appoint and dismiss the deputy mayor and his executive committee, which runs the budget process. It likely won’t be debated until December because of the council’s procedural rules.
Ford, 44, was elected three years ago, riding a backlash from suburbanites who felt alienated by what they deemed Toronto’s downtown-centric, liberal-dominated politics.
Despite his eroding political leverage, Ford promises to see re-election. He maintains a hardcore of supporters he refers to as “Ford Nation,” who applaud him for abolishing an annual $60 vehicle registration tax, squeezing valuable concessions out of the labor unions and other cost-saving measures.